It all comes down to a Sunday afternoon game between the Grizzlies and Warriors. The winner will get the important ‘8’ spot in the Western Conference.
It should be a fun one today, and to get the perspective of the other side, I reached out to Brady Klopfer of SBNation and he gave us what we need to know now, as well as a glimpse into the future.
1. The Grizz/Warriors game will decide the 8 seed in the West. What are 3 keys to a Warriors victory?
The first is defensive discipline. The Warriors have had a very good defense this year, but they’ve been extremely foul happy. They’ve lost a fair number of games because they couldn’t resist the temptation to swipe at the ball — even when they miss. Ja Morant doesn’t need any favors to get going.
The second is steady bench production. The Warriors have played like a team fighting for home court advantage when Steph Curry and Draymond Green are on the court. They’ve played like a G League team when they’re off. That’s gotten better lately, in large part because injuries to James Wiseman and Eric Paschall (who returned to the team on Friday) have forced Steve Kerr to play better rotations. Jordan Poole and Juan Toscano-Anderson have played excellently lately, and if the Warriors want to win they’ll need those two to power a bench unit that can at least tread water when the stars are on the bench.
The third is Curry. I don’t think I’m going to upset any Grizzlies fans when I say that Curry is, rather comfortably, the best player in this game. I’m a firm believer that, in a playoff setting, the biggest advantage you can have is the best player. This is essentially a playoff game, so the Warriors need to feed Curry repeatedly. Now is not the time for Golden State to turn to their “Strength In Numbers” slogan. It’s time for strength in superstars.
2. Regardless of the result of the game, what is the feeling from the Warriors fan base on the play-in games?
Truthfully there hasn’t been much sentiment regarding the play-in tournament from the fanbase. After five trips to the NBA Finals in five years, Warriors fans are a little bit championship or bust. The play-in tournament is certainly exciting — and I’ve no doubt the fanbase is praying for a chance to face LeBron James there — but the sentiment is that the Warriors are, for lack of a less pretentious term, better than it, and shouldn’t need to be messing around with it in future years. From a personal standpoint though, I love it.
3. How is this season viewed — a success, disappointment, or about what was expected?
To this point it’s been a bit of a disappointment, but I think it’s “TBD” until we see what happens in the playoffs. This has not been a year where Steve Kerr has endeared himself to the fanbase, starting with an unfortunately-worded comment (that he backtracked on) about how the team was “not chasing wins.” They tried to toe the line between winning games and developing James Wiseman, and ended up in an awkward middle ground where they did neither.
There’s a sense that, even with Klay Thompson injured, they wasted one of Curry’s superstar years, and didn’t even develop Wiseman in the process. That said, they’re playing their best basketball of the season right now. If they can make it to the playoffs and pull of a first-round upset, the tune will change quickly. Ultimately, the goal of the 2020-21 season was to prove that they’re one Thompson away from winning a title next year — the closer they get to looking like that in the playoffs, the closer the season will get to being viewed as a success.
4. Looking ahead — if the Warriors do get past the play-in, do you prefer to play Utah or Phoenix in the first round?
Given what we know now, Utah, just because of the injury concerns with Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley Jr. But if we’re assuming both teams are at full strength, I lean towards Phoenix. The Suns have been stumbling a little bit as of late — their record has still been good, but their net rating is taking a tumble. Golden State beat a full-strength Phoenix squad on Tuesday, despite Curry having a rare off night.
The Warriors defense — with Andrew Wiggins and Kent Bazemore hounding the perimeter, and Draymond Green acting as a rover — is tailor-made to slow down Devin Booker, and Curry has historically had a good amount of success against Chris Paul, which isn’t something many others can boast. Phoenix would certainly still be favored, but I can see Golden State pulling off the upset.
5. Thoughts on the first year of former Memphis Tiger James Wiseman?
A little rough. Wiseman endeared himself to the fanbase in many ways, by always addressing the media after tough performances, always being his own harshest critic, and talking daily about his love of watching film and his desire to be coached hard. From a personality and intangibles standpoint, he passes with flying colors. The on-court play is a bit more concerning. Wiseman’s defense was rather atrocious, and, despite flashing some great signs, his offense struggled. The Warriors were a dramatically better team on both ends of the court when he was on the bench, and the eye test matched the numbers.
On the one hand, you expect that out of a young player with only three college games, especially since Wiseman missed training camp after testing positive for the coronavirus.
On the other hand, Wiseman didn’t show anything that makes Warriors fans believe he can be a contributor on a 2021-22 team that plans to contend. And a torn meniscus that will hinder much of his offseason doesn’t help in that regard, either. Of course, LaMelo Ball being selected after Wiseman doesn’t really help the fanbase’s view on anything.